Monday, December 11, 2023

Municipal Elections 2023: John Lennon is seeking a seat on Wilmington City Council

WILMINGTON — John Lennon is running for one of three open seats on the Wilmington City Council. A Republican and current member of the Wilmington Planning Commission, Lennon is the director of operations at River Bluffs Development corporation.

He is up against six candidates, including incumbents Neil Anderson and Kevin Spears, as well as Salette Andrews, Kathryn Bruner, Marlowe Foster and David Joyner.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to their municipalities, covering issues such as balancing growth and infrastructure, traffic and tourism, parking and climate change impacts.

Lennon’s answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

To vote early in New Hanover County, visit the Northeast Library (1241 Military Cutoff Road). From Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, voters can also go to CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 Second St.), Carolina Beach Town Hall (1121 Lake Park Blvd.) and the NHC Senior Center (2222 S. College Road).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card, or verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

A photo ID is required to cast a ballot in 2023; more information can be found on the state board of elections website.

The candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily.

Port City Daily (PCD): Have you ever run for a government position before? If so, give us details: What, when, where, outcome? If not, what makes you qualified for a city council position?

John Lennon (JL): This is my first time seeking elected office. I’ve lived in Wilmington since 1998, and I’m proud to have raised my family here with my wife Beth, in her hometown.

I believe my previous, and current, public service experience is one of things that qualifies me for a city council position. Over the last 25 years I served on the Mayor’s Convention Center Task Force, the New Hanover County Airport Authority, the NCDOT Board of Transportation, the Global TransPark Authority and most recently on the City of Wilmington Planning Commission.

This experience showed me first-hand the importance of collaboration in government: collaboration with staff, with citizens, and with other levels of government. I believe in getting every resident involved in the local decision-making processes because government works best when we understand the perspectives of as many stakeholders as possible.

PCD: Why run for city council now?

JL: As our city continues to grow, there has never been a more important time to focus on fiscal oversight and responsible development. I felt that the focus on customer service in city government, which I consider to be its top priority, is getting lost, and I want to do something about that.

PCD: Name three issues you think are most affecting the city currently and describe how you would work toward tackling them.

JL: Affordable housing: The lack of affordable housing is the biggest obstacle to our city’s continued growth. When I speak of affordable housing I’m talking about the family members of my neighbors, friends and community members who can’t afford to rent or buy a home. I’m talking about city employees who are unable to live in the city where they work. The demand for housing in our city far outpaces the supply; we can find solutions to this problem through innovative development that takes advantage of height and density, and the continued use of zoning incentives to encourage workforce housing components in new apartment communities.

Infrastructure: In 2014 the city passed a transportation bond and then a parks bond in 2016. The projects included with both of those bonds are still not completed. In any other business this would be totally unacceptable. Most of the projects called for in those bonds were designed to mitigate the impacts of growth or provide long overdue improvements to city resources like the MLK Center.

Roadway and intersection improvements, multi-use paths that promote recreation, alternative transportation options, and enhancement of some of our woefully maintained city parks are all things that residents should expect to enjoy now. The fact that these projects have been allowed to drag on should not be tolerated by the citizens of Wilmington — pushing these important tasks to completion will be one of my first priorities.

Additionally, we need to take care of problems in our city that have been long neglected. Whether it’s stormwater, street conditions or just making sure the grass is cut in our city parks, somebody needs to make sure these issues are addressed so that the city’s taxpayers are getting what they pay for.

Customer-focused government: Citizens are customers of our local government and should expect to be treated as such. Part of making this concept work is making sure that we have the most highly qualified, fairly compensated city employees that we can. In addition to focusing on strong starting compensation for city positions, we need to make sure we are retaining the best of the best, while holding all of city staff accountable for their performance and efficiency.

I also believe that transparency in our government should be part of the customer-focused culture. There should not instances where significant decisions by city leaders catch the public by surprise, like the purchase of a nearly empty office building.

PCD: Growth in the city continues at a rapid pace — 3.92% since the most recent census of 116,146 in 2020, now at 120,695. Jobs and affordable housing continue to be of top importance to keep people here; how as a city council member do you propose fostering a better balance with both? What will you bring to the table that hasn’t been considered yet?

JL: The issues of job availability and affordable housing are very closely linked together. Employers will not start a business here, or relocate one here, if there are not sufficient housing opportunities for their employees. The availability of better paying jobs — for all of our citizens — provides a wider choice of housing options for them.

When it comes to how the government can foster job growth: I believe the answer is for government to stay out of the way and not over-regulate businesses. I believe that dependence on large employers puts our local economy at risk, if they choose to relocate or sell, so I favor the continued growth of small- to medium-sized businesses that will create job opportunities for every citizen.

PCD: Homelessness has become a growing concern for many residents and local government officials in recent years. Do you support a housing-first approach? How/why? What else would you support to help the less vulnerable populations of our city?

JL: When I was growing up, it was not the job of local government to solve homelessness. Faith-based organizations and non-profits led the effort to provide resources for those who needed it. Local government’s job is to provide basic services to all of its residents and to make sure all residents feel safe in our city. In my opinion
one can’t simply say that they are in support of housing-first for an issue like this without understanding each individual’s need and the underlying factors that led to an individual’s current situation. There are a multitude of organizations in town dedicated to working on this issue and they should be robustly supported.

The city and county have taken strides to meet people where they are, by sometimes sending social workers rather than law enforcement officers to respond to calls about encampments across town, and I support this work.

PCD: The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is reaching its end-of-life and funding has yet to be allocated toward its replacement. What have officials gotten wrong and right in expediting the process? What would you do that is different? Also, do you support a toll and any of the options on the table for its replacement? Explain.

JL: The State of North Carolina owns the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and the state should be the one held accountable to replace it. I believe that every government in our region waited too long to put this issue in the spotlight. I refer to every government because the aging bridge is not Wilmington’s problem, it’s southeastern North Carolina’s problem. More people come into Wilmington everyday than leave, and the failure to maintain this connectivity would cripple our whole region.

I would not support a toll as a method of funding the bridge construction.

PCD: With sea-level rise continuing to increase and affect low-lying areas, such as downtown Wilmington, flood resilience and preventing natural disaster scenarios is a necessity in a hurricane-prone zone. What more would you suggest is implemented to protect the coastline, including the Cape Fear River banks?

JL: The city’s new Land Development Code took several steps to ensure that the environmentally sensitive areas are protected: stormwater related to a project is treated, and as many trees as possible are retained in areas of new development. That said, it is not the City’s job to add onto the State and Federal regulations around the protections of our rivers, waterways and saltwater marshes.

PCD: Where do you stand on Cape Fear River growth — for instance, extending the Riverwalk under the Isabel Holmes Bridge and redeveloping the industrial area on the northern waterfront? Do you support building on the western banks of the Cape Fear River? Why or why not?

JL: Generally, I would be in support of the responsible development of the riverfront in the specific area north of the Holmes Bridge, but obviously it depends on the nature of the project and its impact to the area.

I have yet to see any project proposed for the western banks of the Cape Fear River that makes environmental, fiscal or logistical sense. Our riverfront is a special place and if anything goes there it would have to be scrutinized carefully.

PCD: Did you support the city’s recent purchase of the Thermo Fisher building in downtown Wilmington? What should be done with the two tracts of land that came with the purchase? Should it benefit taxpayers?

JL: I did not support the purchase of the Thermo Fisher building, nor do I support the city taking the upper floors of the building now that the deed is done. My biggest issue is the embarrassingly scant amount of information that was disseminated to the
taxpayers before the unanimous votes to move ahead.

First, we were told the purchase would result in a $.03 tax increase, then a $.01 tax increase and then, magically, it was purchased without any tax increase. That was accomplished by removing programs and services from the city budget that were meant to benefit every citizen. I want to see the city sell its surplus assets at the highest price possible to reduce our debt and I will vote against any budget that calls for a tax increase related to the Thermo Fisher building.

PCD: Some residents have accused the city council of only representing a select few in the community, rather than the needs of all. Do you agree with this sentiment? Explain. What would you do in a leadership position to represent more equitably?

JL: If you are a citizen of Wilmington, I will represent you. Our city cannot move forward by helping only one interest or a select group of interests. It moves forward by having a leadership that serves every citizen. I’m dedicated to making Wilmington a place where all of our residents can live safely and prosperously.

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